Martha Dow Story in Jerilyn’s Words

Many of you know that I lost my mom 14 years ago to breast cancer; she was 67. Going through the ups and downs of treatment and the gravity of the disease was by far the most difficult thing I’ve dealt with in my life. I share her story in hopes of helping women who don’t take time for themselves and get regular check-ups including mammograms…it’s so very important!!

The tragic loss of my mom at way too young an age and the thousands of others affected by the disease is a reminder for us all the importance of early detection. Please share this story with your moms, sisters, and friends. If it prompts even one person to go get a mammogram then we have made a difference. Until there is a cure for this ugly disease we need to do the best we can to survive.

My Mom’s Story
By: Jerilyn Hanson

I was having dinner with friends on March 30, 2007, when a surprising phone call came from my dad saying he and my mom were at OHSU and that Mom was very ill. Dad said they had been at the hospital for several hours and were currently waiting on CT scans and tests to show what was going on with her breast.  He then shared that during the five-hour drive from Klamath Falls where they lived, she had been bleeding from her breast. My mind immediately went to the possibility that the blood he was referring to was a small amount coming from her nipple, which is one of the telltale signs of breast cancer. Since I had seen her the month prior, I couldn’t possibly know how seriously ill she really was.

I walked out of the elevator at the hospital to find ONCOLOGY in bold print above the door that entered the hallway to her room. Panic hit me knowing I was actually going to visit my recently healthy mother on the floor for cancer patients. The next few hours became my worst nightmare. My healthy, vibrant, workaholic mother turned out to be deathly ill, completely incoherent and hooked up to IV’s, tubes, and monitors. The small amount of bleeding my dad had described and I had envisioned, turned out to be major loss of blood from a gaping wound in her left breast. A hideous, enormous tumor had grown so large it broke the skin and was now growing from the inside out of her breast. The breast was three times the size of the right, literally there was an alien growing out of her chest.  Along with the horrible sight of my mom, I’ll never forget the awful smell, the room reeked as if a dead animal were in the near vicinity. I later learned from one of the nurses that the smell was coming from the tumor and the necrotic tissue surrounding it.

Teams of doctors paraded in and out of her room, each one with more devastating news than the last. The diagnosis…Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer. In other words, cancer that had spread to other organs of her body. Unbeknownst to any of my family or my mom’s colleagues and friends, this highly intelligent, vibrant woman had gone to great lengths to hide this huge tumor and her illness. How could this be? She told me she got checked regularly. The cancer had already spread throughout her bones and into her liver.

My world collapsed around me because I knew deep down how dire this situation and how difficult it would be to  have any chance of saving her life. Mine and the lives of my family changed in an instant; the harrowing fight for her life began.

Weekly chemo and radiation treatments didn’t do a thing to improve her condition or her prognosis. We went to hundreds of doctor visits over the next few months, each one filled with constant bad news. The massive tumor continued to grow while my already tiny mother wasted away.

At the time of her diagnosis, Mom was still the acting president of Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls; she was the first female president of this college. In addition to her 10-year position as president, she had her PhD in Microbiology and was finishing her most recent project at the college, completing the construction of a state-of-the-art health facility offering OIT students all kinds of allied health programs. The building opened in September of 2007 with top-of-the-line equipment and programs for students studying Nuclear Medicine, Radiology and Ultrasound.

Just before her death my family and I were able to take her to Klamath Falls for the opening ceremony of this magnificent medical building. Miraculously, Mom perked up enough to be at the ceremony and cut the ribbon for the grand opening. During the ceremony an announcement was made that the building would be named in her honor; The Martha Anne Dow Center for Health Professionals. She died 3 weeks later, 1 day shy of exactly 6 months from her diagnosis.

The irony of the story to this day is mind-boggling. How could this extremely intelligent woman be responsible for all she had accomplished, including building this state-of-the-art health center, be dying because she neglected her own health? How long had she known about the monster living in her body? What kept her from not getting the treatment she so desperately needed? Watching someone you love die from such a dreadful disease is truly awful…the very worst part was knowing it may have been prevented. Maybe if she had gotten that mammogram and taken time to care for herself she would still be here today.

Although my mom never confessed why she didn’t get treatment or tell anyone about her condition, I believe she was paralyzed by fear and was suffering from the worst case of denial…as long as she didn’t acknowledge the growth in her breast maybe it would just go away.

I know the situation I’ve shared is an extreme case, but I often wonder how many women are out there in the world who decide to wait to have their mammogram or have found a small lump and wait to go have it checked fearing what they might find out. Neglect and denial ultimately cost my mom her life. Please be sure that you and those you love don’t make that mistake.

Early detection is so, so important. We must take care of ourselves, ladies. Let’s make a female pact that we will get our mammograms annually, more if you have a family history. We will do our self-breast exams at home and see our doctor immediately if something feels abnormal (15% of all breast cancer cases are detected through self-breast exams).

Fourteen years since Mom’s passing and it feels like yesterday. The grief has lessened, but the void is always present. Breast cancer takes away far too many at far too young an age. Doing what we can to stay healthy and prevent the disease is all we can do.

I wish you all my dear sisterhood, much health and happiness.

Owner of West Linn Aesthetics